Differentiable neural substrates for learned and described value and risk

Thomas H B Fitzgerald, Ben Seymour, Dominik R Bach, Raymond J Dolan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Citations (Scopus)


Studies of human decision making emerge from two dominant traditions: learning theorists [1-3] study choices in which options are evaluated on the basis of experience, whereas behavioral economists and financial decision theorists study choices in which the key decision variables are explicitly stated. Growing behavioral evidence suggests that valuation based on these different classes of information involves separable mechanisms [4-8], but the relevant neuronal substrates are unknown. This is important for understanding the all-too-common situation in which choices must be made between alternatives that involve one or another kind of information. We studied behavior and brain activity while subjects made decisions between risky financial options, in which the associated utilities were either learned or explicitly described. We show a characteristic effect in subjects' behavior when comparing information acquired from experience with that acquired from description, suggesting that these kinds of information are treated differently. This behavioral effect was reflected neurally, and we show differential sensitivity to learned and described value and risk in brain regions commonly associated with reward processing. Our data indicate that, during decision making under risk, both behavior and the neural encoding of key decision variables are strongly influenced by the manner in which value information is presented.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1823-9
Number of pages7
JournalCurrent Biology
Issue number20
Publication statusPublished - 26 Oct 2010


  • Basal Ganglia
  • Brain Mapping
  • Choice Behavior
  • Decision Making
  • Humans
  • Learning
  • Logistic Models
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Neurons
  • Parietal Lobe
  • Prefrontal Cortex
  • Probability
  • Risk

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